The Travelling Companion

a short and truthy story by Patrick Kennel

I’m hitchhiking. I’m dropped off in the Smokies. A 60-something year old man in a red, top-down Jeep picks me up. I’m going to visit a friend in Florida. He asks me if I want to drive awhile. He compliments me on my capacity to drive a manual. He asks me to be his traveling companion to the Northeast on a business trip. He knows that I am headed to Florida but is willing to give me 100 dollars a day to go with him. Simply to be a traveling companion. That is all. I think about it. This is crazy, but I decide to do it anyway. After all, I am on an adventure. I can always say no. He asks me would I like to see any place along the way. He thinks I would like Asheville, North Carolina. I say that I’ve heard good things about that place and that I have wanted to see it. I’ve heard people like me like it there.

I drive to Asheville. We are talking about things along the way. It is nice to drive the Jeep. It is nice to drive at all. We get to Asheville, he finds a camping store. We go in. I love camping stores. He offers me anything I want. I think about this and I think understand how gifts work. I am a little bit scared. I am a very grateful but do not need anything, thankyou. He buys some things. A tent, some sleeping pads, I think. He talks about maybe having to camp. Seriously, anything at all, he tells me. Anything I want, it’s a true gift, no strings attached, he tells me. This is hard for me. I decline his offers.

I have my guitar with me. I would like to busk on the street for a minute. I play some songs on a bridge. No ones listens.

We leave Asheville, North Carolina. It is insisted that I continue driving. He thinks I will like driving through the National Park. We take that route. It is nice to drive through the National Park. It is getting late. It is dark. He thinks that this is a good place to stop and camp. I think that camping here with a man who does not know me but yet has asked me to be his traveling companion and furthermore has offered to buy me gifts is likely not a good idea. I tell him I don’t like this spot. We keep going. I don’t like any of the spots. We have now driven out of the National Park. He thinks we have missed out on our opportunity to camp and that this is sad. I think that such is life. He thinks we should probably look for a hotel because really it is late. I think this is a good idea. We spot a hotel and stop. He goes in to get a room. I collect all of my belongings into my duffel bag and grab my guitar and go in. I wonder if he has requested a room with two beds. I cannot contemplate a valid reaction is there is only one bed. We get to the room. There are two beds.

He wants to talk about how nice the day was… how important chance opportunities are. I want to go to sleep. It is late and it is a good idea to go to sleep. We go to sleep. I sleep lightly with my hand clutched tightly around my 4 inch gutting knife unsheathed under my pillow. I wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of him moving. I crack my eyelids just enough to see him. I tighten my grip on my knife. I see him in only his old man’s white underwear. He moves toward my bed. He passes my bed and goes on towards the bathroom. I wait. He returns to his bed. I am not sure whether or not he used the bathroom. I contemplate going to sleep. I have heard about “sleeping lightly” in the movies. I never actually believed it was something people did in real life. I sleep lightly for the rest of the night.

The next morning is awkward. I think we exchange some conversation about his waking during the night, or my not waking during the night. He is driving today. I tell him that I think I have to end our traveling arrangement and continue to Florida. He thinks I should continue with him. I think I should continue on to Florida. It’s not that I don’t want to go along with him, it’s more so that I just think I really should stick to my plan. He understands. He wants to make sure that I’m sure. I’m sure. He tells me a story. He tells me he was in the Army. He tells me he was in the Army with a very, very good friend of his. He tells me he visited his friend after they got out but that it was different then. He tells me his friend eventually died of a disease that at the time only young men were dying from. He tells me he went to his friends funeral. He tells me he was not welcome there. He tells me that he does not know which is sadder, to love someone who does not love you in return or to be loved by someone whom you do not love in return.

I do not know either. I tell him that seriously I would like to be dropped off now. He thinks that this isn’t a great spot to thumb a ride. I think it is.

He pulls over. I get out. He insists that I take the 100 dollars I have earned by being his traveling companion for one day. I do not want it. He insists I take it. I do not want it. I think I understand how gifts work. He thinks that he truly wants me to have it. He is pushing a 100 dollar bill towards me. He looks sad. I take it. I consider this my gift to him. I get out. I say goodbye. He tells me he lives in the French Quarter in New Orleans and that I should visit him. I tell him thank you for telling me that. He pulls away. It is hot and dusty on the side of the road. I feel dirty.

I hate the 100 dollars in my hand. I hate the entire last day. I hate that I believed that he just wanted to give me a ride. I hate that I went with him even though he offered to let a complete stranger drive his vehicle. I hate that he was an old wrinkled man driving a young man’s vehicle. I hate his New Orleans accent. I hate how disgusting he looked in his white underwear. I hate that he told me that story. I hate that I didn’t get out earlier. I want it to never have happened. I want to be where I would be right now if I had never stepped into that Jeep. I want a different adventure. I think that I need a new plan.

I have a friend in Raleigh. I had told him that I might be dropping in on him. I get a ride that way. I get dropped off at the city limits on the corner of Hope and Fear. I can’t seem to get a ride any further into the city. I think people don’t pick up hitchhikers in the city. I start walking.

I see a bum on a stoop. He wants to talk to me. I sit down and listen to him. He tells me a story. He says that when he was young he was scared and unhappy. He was angry a lot. That was a bad time. He says it was that way until Jesus came to him a dream. He says Jesus came to him in a dream and told him that it was all going to be OK. He says it wasn’t a dream like the way I’m thinking. He says it was real. He says it was actually Jesus. He tells me that ever since then he has been different. He tells me he is happy now. He tells me that no matter what happens he is happy now. I like this story. I give him the 100 dollar bill. He asks me if I’d like to walk to the liquor store with him to get more of what he is drinking. I do. I go to the store with him. He buys liquor. We go back to the stoop. We talk for a little. I must be off. He thanks me for the money. I tell him that I think he was supposed to have it.

I walk back to the corner of Hope and Fear. Someone stops. He tells me that he saw me earlier. He tells me that he had had things to do and that he had gone and done those things and then he had decided to come back and to see if I was still there and to see whether or not I still needed a ride. I tell him I still need a ride. He asks where I am going. I tell him I have a friend I’m visiting in Raleigh. He happens to be going toward there. I wonder what things he went and did. I ask him if he minds if I close my eyes and rest a bit while he drives. He doesn’t mind. I close my eyes and rest a bit while he drives.


Barefooting: It’s mostly fun and games

Lacerations, irregular tear-like wounds caused by some blunt trauma. The term laceration is commonly misused in reference to incisions. (Wikipedia)

My left foot after some blunt trauma... photo is misleading as the actually injury occurred on pavement, not gravel.

So as it turns out, bare-footing may have a learning curve… and it might be mostly fun and games, but it’s not all fun and games.  Apparently every 2 miles or so my left foot gets lazy and I get what you might call a little “toe-drag on the up-stroke.”  1st two times on the run it just kinda bruised me, the third time was a charm, however, and caused a blunt force laceration, leaving a pretty red trail all the way home.

But seriously, now that I have your attention, here is the run down on barefoot running, why its better for you, and a few resources.

Barefoot running provides a solution to physiological problem.  As pointed out in “Born to Run,” studies have shown a direct correlation between the price of your running shoe (read “amount of padding therein”) and your chances of getting a running injury.  The idea is that the more padding you have, the more likely you are to run with a high impact gait, and the more trauma is introduced into your feet, ankles, knees, back and neck.  When you take off your shoes, you are forced to adjust your gait in response to an instant feedback mechanism known as “pain.”  You will eventually find your self adjusting the bad habits in your running gait in order to achieve pain free, impact free running.  Just take it slow, as you can see above there is a learning curve.

Barefoot running provides a sustainable hobby.  While most hobbies these days require 500$ worth of start-up gear and at least 100$ maintenance or area use fees per month, barefoot running can be done on the roads for which you already pay your taxes, and the only gear you need is a pair of running shorts and shirt (if thats your thing).  Looking for a minimalist hobby that puts the least amount of trash to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? This is your gig!

Barefoot running provides a psychological analogy and sandbox.  The major capacity you will learn to use while barefoot running is the ability to 1) listen to the messages your body is sending you and 2) to adjust your behavior in response to these messages.  This lesson can be carried into the emotional/social/psychological realm as well.  Once you experiment with tuning your behavior to bring about physiological peace, balance and homeostasis you can experiment with applying this capacity towards bringing about psychological peace, balance and homeostasis.

So there you have it, barefoot running and some applications in the physiological, social and psychological realms.  Now obviously there are some down sides, such as incurring lacerations, but there again, nothing worth having is free.

Calcium retention, a lesson in economics?

In The Paleo Diet, Cordain advocates a no dairy diet (correct me if I’m wrong here).  Probably the first thing that pops into your mind, and Cordain prepared for this reaction, was “Hey, what about my calcium?!  Won’t my bones disintegrate like Kevin Costner’s fictitious father when he walks into the corn fields in  “Field of Dreams” if I don’t drink my milk?!!”  No need to re-invent the wheel here, I’ll let Cordain rebut this one:

  • “Most of us have gotten the message about consuming calcium.  But the other part of the equation –how much calcium you excrete– is just as important.  It is quite possible for you to be in calcium balance on a low calcium intake if your calcium excretion is also low.  On the other hand, it’s easy for you to fall out of calcium balance –even if you load up on cheese at every meal– if you lose more calcium than you take in.”

Cordain goes on to explain that an out-of-kilter pH balance will send calcium excretion off the charts, and will require you to consume huge amounts of daily calcium to make up for this loss.  The alternative is to keep your pH in balance by consuming large quantities of fruits and vegetables, and luckily enough those same fruits and veggies contain enough calcium to more than adequately exceed your now very low calcium excretion rate.  In a sense, when you are pumping yourself full of milk in order to keep up with your ridiculous calcium excretion rates, you are likely treating the symptoms, and not the actual cause of your real problem.

Picture trying to keep a bucket with a pin-hole leak full by filling it with a dixie cup instead of trying to keep a bucket with the bottom missing full by filling it with a garden hose!  Wouldn’t it make sense to try to plug up the hole, or at least make it as small as possible, instead of running up your water bill using the hose?

So how does economics come into play here?  Well in a sense, we have just talked about the economy of body calcium levels, so now we’re just going to talk about the economy of money.  What if, just like with calcium, there was a way to bring yourself into monetary balance not by making more money, but instead by “excreting” less?  Now this is hardly a new concept.  Take Thoreau in Walden Pond, Jesus sending out the disciples, the Buddha, Ghandi, etc. for examples.  But the reason I bring this up today is because of its possible implication for the US economy!

I don’t really want to go into this in all that much depth, so I’ll just ask a few questions:

What if, instead of trying to get us out of this economic recession by increasing our monetary intake…. [wait for it, waaaait for it]… we tried to get ourselves out of this recession by decreasing our monetary excretion rates?!  Please bring back that mental image of yourself trying to keep that bucket full with a hose, now pretend there are trillions of dollars coming out of that hose instead of water.  Is the only answer to this recession to create new jobs which create new products and services that we didn’t know we needed, and then create demand for these new products and services by telling people that they need them?

For myself, I’m going to experiment in both realms, physiological and economic.  My guess is that just like the calcium, in money not only will I be able to be in balance by lowering my excretion rate, but I’ll be healthier and happier to boot. What about you?

More is Less, and Less is just right?

This whole diet thing has apparently been firing nearby brain cells, and I think i’m starting to narrow in on what the epicenter of this neuro-party is.  Forgive me, my oh so wise bible teachers who i ignored growing up, but I think they were on to something with the concept that Less is More… although i’m wondering is “less” isn’t necessarily “more”, as the “more” we can come to think of as normal is just “too much”, and “less” would actually be “just right”.  I like lists, so the following are the examples from totally different walks of life that seem to be surfacing the same central theme:

  1. Diet
  2. Footwear
  3. Bedding
  4. Possessions

Now each of these topics actually corresponds to a book, or several, that I’ reading. So I’ll expound.

1.  Diet.

I’ve stumbled upon the Paleolithic Diet (The Paleo Diet, The Primal Blueprint, The Atkins Diet?).  The basic philosophy of this diet is as follows:  If human beings evolved to live on hunted game and gathered fruits/veg, and then thived for around 2 million years, then that is the diet under which the human being will perform optimally. Flipped around, the agricultural revolution and all of its spawn (seed-eating, grain-eating, sugar-eating) are the cause of many of modern mans ailments.  But wait! You say.  Wasn’t the agricultural revolution an improvement?  Didn’t it free us from the burden of hunting and gathering?  Well… yes… but it probably is what gave rise to diabetes,heart disease,obesity, 80 work weeks on a farm and 40 work weeks in a grey cubicle.  Sounds like out of the frying pan and into the fire to me.  Or maybe more-so out of the garden of Eden and into the fields to toil and sweat and die of a heart attack.

2. Footwear?

Yes.  Footwear.  Came across this when I thought I should buy new running shoes… thought about Nike Frees, and then ran across a Tim Ferris review of the Vibram FiveFingers.  Bought a pair immediately.  Again, the premise, if human beings evolved to walk on their two bare feet, and then thrived for 2 million years (without plantar fasciitis or heel spurs), then might the modern running shoe be the cause (not the solution) to our modern running injuries?  Then I read Born to Run and was blown away.  Yes… yes it appears that you come out of the womb with the most high tech running suspension system ever created.

3. Bedding

Actually, i haven’t found more than a sentence or two on the whole internet (yes… the whole googlenet, and i fancy myself a pretty quick on the draw googler) regarding simple bedding. [*Update 🙂  Found this link from MDA] But this is more of a personal experiment, taking the less is more idea and trying to apply to other places.  And actually, I’ve had this knot in my back that recurrs whenever I become active over the last 5 years… and after 1 month of sleeping on a futon on the floor, its gone!  Could be a result of diet + exercise change, but who knows!  Anyways, my hypothesis in this area is the same as the others,  if people slept on minimal bedding for two million years… yeah you get the point.

4.  Possessions.

I just cracked open Walden the other day, and I wager to think that it would have been fascinating to discuss a Paleo diet and barefoot running with him.  The man is dead on.  I’m not very far into this book, but already he is comparing the “modern” man of his time to the “savages” he actually had the great pleasure of being able to interact with and observe (at the very least through second person). So far he has spoken to the issues of clothing and housing and how modern man has become a slave to those things which in reality are supposed to liberate him.  “But lo! Men have become the tools of their tools.”  So again I wonder… if man lived and thrived for 2 million years with minimal clothing/possessions (no tvs,bikes,football,sports cars,books)/lodging, did we perhaps take a wrong turn somewhere.  Is it possible that like the carbs, and like the shoes, many/all of the other experiments on improving the human “condition” are also failing/failed?

So thats the question to ponder now.  What other things in my life are  just like the carbs and the shoes in that CV (conventional wisdom) has told me I cannot live without, but reality has demonstrated that not only can I live without, but I can live better without?